Sometimes it's just fun to be a great, big bastard. That's the main thing I took away from my rather grin-inducing hands-on session with Shadow Realms, BioWare's newly unveiled action-RPG. In it, you play 4 vs 1--good guys versus a single bad. And If you're going to be that single, big bastard, do it with spike traps and oversized, comedy bombs. That shit's just hilarious.
Don't worry: it's fun for the good guys too. Covering six potential classes, and a hell of a lot of (promised) customisation, their 'modern fantasy' blend of magic and real-world weapons makes for a hell of a fighting force. But I'm not one of those guys. I am the Shadowlord, the unseen big-bad, and in-game analogue for a good old-fashioned D&D GameMaster. It is my job to absolutely ruin things for them.
Invisible in my natural, demonic form, I run through the dungeon, just ahead of the heroes, planting booby-trapped floor-spikes in all the places I know those desperate fools will tread. I also learn that a well-placed, quickly detonating bomb is one hell of a deterrent from investigating an otherwise enticing loot drop. Possessing one of the dungeon's mooks, as I am free to do at will, I improve my grunts' effectiveness tenfold, hiding my true identity in the fray and causing all kinds of slam-pit misery by catching the co-op players between multiple demonic attacks.
Best of all, the last of my powers--all limited by a cooldown timer, but a pleasingly short one, in keeping with Shadow Realms' breakneck pace--allows me to possess a clone of one of the good guys, quietly infiltrating the group before beating the merry hell out of them. I separate one of them from the pack, passing myself off as his female assassin buddy in the confusion of the fray. We run ahead together to push back a flanking wave. I trap him in a doorway and stab him senseless, hearing the cries of his real-world self across the room behind me. He was yelling at his team-mate to stop attacking him. I laugh my arse off and keep stabbing.
Despite the serious, doom-laden tone of Shadow Realms' teaser trailers, it's one of those most life-affirmingly anarchic romps I've played in a good while. It's also, accessible, lightning fast, and nourishingly smart in its on-the-fly tactics. The full, episodic story will probably bring the trademark BioWare drama, but the core combat is a glorious festival of laugh-out-loud victimisation.